Free Trade: NBA Deals That Could Jolt the Playoff Race
Part of what makes the NBA trade deadline so special is the party right before it. Speculation swirls. Conspiracy theories run amok. Reports, many of them conflicting, are dispersed in excess and in real time.
Through it all, the most responsible hoops heads are left asking: How can I contribute to this glorious state of chaos?
In this case, the answer is: By firing up ESPN's Trade Machine and messing with the rosters of playoff hopefuls.
To keep things fresh, Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal has proposed seven deals to yours truly, who will then talk us all through these packages. Having been given a license to render verdicts (that I printed and laminated myself), I'll decide whether each trade earns the go-ahead signal. If it does, that's great. If not, we'll try reworking the deal accordingly.
Not every involved party will be chasing a postseason berth. But at least one side of every trade will affect a squad that's angling to play beyond mid-April.
Wizards Give Bench a Sorely Needed Boost
Atlanta Hawks Receive: SG/SF Danuel House, SF/PF Andrew Nicholson, 2017 second-round pick and a 2018 second-round pick.
Washington Wizards Receive: SG/SF Thabo Sefolosha and PF Mike Scott.
No team is hotter than the Wizards. They are 20-5 since Christmas, with a top-five offense and top-three defense that equal a net rating (plus-8.1) matched only by the Golden State Warriors (plus-12.3) and San Antonio Spurs (plus-9.9).
Depth is the one glaring concern Washington continues to have during this stretch. Head coach Scott Brooks depends on his starters too much, an issue only partially addressed by the existence of Kelly Oubre Jr. and the return of Ian Mahinmi.
The Wizards' reserves have been dead even when on the floor through the team's surge, but the Minnesota Timberwolves, coached by the rest-averse Tom Thibodeau, are the lone squad turning to second-stringers less.
Getting Thabo Sefolosha without giving up a first-rounder would be a huge win. Though he's dealing with a groin injury, the 32-year-old is a tried-and-true defensive stopper who would add considerable depth to a shallow rotation.
Tony Allen, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kevin Durant are the only non-bigs who have saved more points on the less glamorous end, according to NBA Math—and that's with Sefolosha missing one-fifth of the season. Place him beside John Wall, and those defensive stands will be paired with a barrage of corner triples that boost his 32.9 percent three-point clip.
The Atlanta Hawks were shopping Sefolosha before they put the kibosh on a January fire sale, per ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst. Even if they're content wasting away in the middle, the raise Sefolosha is due this summer should scare them enough to take a flier on Andrew Nicholson's cheapo deal and a second-round filler.
Verdict: Thumbs up!
Thunder Finally Find Shooters for Russell Westbrook
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: SF/PF Omri Casspi, SG Ben McLemore and a 2018 second-round pick.
Sacramento Kings Receive: PG Cameron Payne and SG/SF Anthony Morrow.
Can the Oklahoma City Thunder get Russell Westbrook some NBA-level shooters already?
The Thunder are tied with the Chicago Bulls for the worst three-point success rate in the league (31.8 percent). They manufacture as many wide-open threebies as the Warriors (12), but their 31.9 percent conversion mark on those attempts ranks dead last.
Oklahoma City was dangling Cameron Payne in proposals for Rudy Gay as of late December to help address this issue, according to The Vertical's Chris Mannix. Gay's season-ending Achilles injury ruined that idea, but Omri Casspi and Ben McLemore make for a nice backup plan.
McLemore is shooting a career-best 36.3 percent from beyond the arc for a Kings team that doesn't engineer many high-quality looks. That number climbs to 37.8 percent in spot-up situations and rises yet again to 39.5 percent when he's left wide open.
Casspi represents a risk since he hasn't played since Jan. 13 while dealing with a calf injury. But he's due back after the All-Star break, per NBC Bay Area's James Ham, and shooting 47.6 percent on catch-and-shoot three-balls.
The Sacramento Kings don't yet have their point guard of the future and could use an electric lottery prospect such as Payne. Landing him would be worth losing two expiring contracts they're likely not going to retain anyway—in fact, with Casspi's injury, it might even take a bit more for Oklahoma City to bite.
The Kings need only first realize their obsession with securing the Western Conference's No. 8 seed is futile.
Verdict: Let's Tinker.
Oklahoma City Thunder Receive: PG Darren Collison, SF/PF Omri Casspi and SG Ben McLemore.
Sacramento Kings Receive: PG Cameron Payne, SG/SF Anthony Morrow and a 2019 second-round pick.
Chicago Bulls Receive: SG Malik Beasley, PF Kenneth Faried, SG/SF K.J. McDaniels, PG Emmanuel Mudiay, a 2017 unprotected first-round pick (via the Denver Nuggets) and a 2018 lottery-protected first-round pick (via the Houston Rockets).
Denver Nuggets Receive: SG/SF Corey Brewer, SG/SF Jimmy Butler and PG Michael Carter-Williams.
Houston Rockets Receive: PG Isaiah Canaan and SF/PF Wilson Chandler.
Depending on the day, Jimmy Butler is either available or unavailable, expendable or untouchable. At this minute, according to Basketball Insiders' Steve Kyler, the Chicago Bulls aren't moving him:
The consensus on both Butler and [Paul] George is that neither team, Chicago nor Indiana, would actually consider a serious offer at this point, mainly because moving either player would require an open roster spot to consummate and neither team really has one. Compound that with the notion that neither the Bulls nor the Pacers would concede their season now for a deal they could easily revisit in the offseason after whatever playoff run their respective teams have.
Opening additional roster spots to make room for the assets they acquire in any Butler deal is something the Bulls can worry about in subsequent trades. If the Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets bring this framework to the table, they have to at least think about it.
Chicago nabs its possible franchise point guard in Emmanuel Mudiay. He hasn't been great through his first one-and-a-half seasons, but he's best suited in an offense that doesn't run things through Nikola Jokic.
Kenneth Faried is affordable and peppy insurance for Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic's (restricted) scheduled forays into free agency. K.J. McDaniels still has tantalizing potential on the defensive end, while Malik Beasley has a Robert Covington-meets-Danny Green ceiling. Snagging extra first-rounders in consecutive drafts is a solid way to break ground on a rebuild.
Reuniting Wilson Chandler with Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni would be almost unfair. He is a stark upgrade over Corey Brewer, would enable Houston to get more creative on defense and wouldn't hit free agency until 2018 (player option).
Sticking Butler in Denver would legitimize the Nuggets' postseason bid. They'd need to absorb Michael Carter-Williams and Brewer, but that's the price you pay for a top-15 player who, unlike the rest of your roster, knows how to wall off dribble penetration.
Losing Mudiay is sneaky hard here, albeit not detrimental. The Nuggets have Jameer Nelson, Jokic remains their offensive focal point and the committee of Will Barton, Danilo Gallinari, Gary Harris, Jamal Murray and Butler could pitch in on the playmaking front.
Verdict: Green light. But if the Bulls insist on getting Harris instead of Beasley or Murray instead of Mudiay, the Nuggets should oblige.
Chicago's Teardown Soldiers Onward
Boston Celtics Receive: PF/C Taj Gibson and SF Doug McDermott.
Chicago Bulls Receive: PF Amir Johnson, SG/SF James Young, a 2019 lottery-protected first-round pick (via Clippers) and a 2017 second-round pick (via Minnesota Timberwolves).
The Boston Celtics are in the market for a big man, according to The Vertical's Shams Charania—they just don't want to give up much in return. We know this because, per CelticsBlog's Jared Weiss, they weren't willing to send the Orlando Magic a first-round pick and Terry Rozier in a trade for Serge Ibaka. Shocker.
Taj Gibson meshes with the Celtics' plan to preserve cap space and assets ahead of the offseason while adding front-line toughness. His $9 million salary comes off the books at year's end, and he's posting a higher defensive rebounding rate (19.2) than any Celtics player not named Kelly Olynyk.
Plop him next to Al Horford, and Boston still wouldn't want for space. The two could swap defensive assignments on a whim, and Gibson has been more than willing to come off the bench for winning teams in the past.
Chicago shouldn't take issue with offloading Gibson after sending Butler to Denver in this universe. He'll command an offseason raise that has no place on the ledger of a rebuilding squad, and the platoon of Robin Lopez, Bobby Portis, Cristiano Felicio (restricted) and Faried renders him expendable.
Doug McDermott is already on the chopping block, according to Basketball Insiders' Michael Scotto. The Celtics could develop him as a spot-up shooter and mask his defensive warts in ways the Bulls cannot.
Amir Johnson and James Young immediately become buyout or to-be-waived candidates in Chicago. Ditto for Rajon Rondo. The Bulls would gain two extra players after dealing Butler and Gibson, and they wouldn't have room for all of them.
This deal isn't about the players. It's about getting first- and second-round goodies for a flight risk (Gibson) and a youngster who has peaked within Chicago's clunky offense (McDermott).
Verdict: This should definitely happen. The Bulls should also try doing what the Magic couldn't and coax the Celtics into including Rozier rather than Young.
Clippers Get Their Guy—No, Not Melo
Los Angeles Clippers Receive: SF P.J. Tucker.
Phoenix Suns Receive: PF/C Brice Johnson, SF Paul Pierce (to be waived) and a 2019 second-round pick.
Los Angeles offered the Phoenix Suns a second-round pick for P.J. Tucker back in January, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein. And now that Carmelo Anthony is determined to outlast Phil Jackson in New York, per The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski, it makes sense to revisit this framework.
Frontcourt depth beyond Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan remains the Clippers' greatest pitfall. Their second-unit forwards place 27th in defensive efficiency, and they're still more reliant on Luc Mbah a Moute and Marreese Speights than Wesley Johnson.
Sources told Stein the Suns are holding out for first-round compensation in any Tucker deal, but they'll have to sell lower. He is on an expiring contract and, at 31, doesn't fit into the grand scheme for a franchise juggling the urge to chase wins with the need to rebuild.
Brice Johnson would be a nice supplement to a first-round pick. He was selected 25th overall in last June's draft and will be only 23 when next season tips off. But back injuries have prevented him from making his NBA debut, and he's an odd fit when Phoenix already employs Dragan Bender, Tyson Chandler, Marquese Chriss and soon-to-be restricted free agent Alex Len.
Clippers coach-president Doc Rivers also wouldn't force Paul Pierce into retirement before the season ends when the return is Tucker. Constructing an offer around Johnson is the more logical play.
Verdict: Close, but it needs a tweak.
Los Angeles Clippers Receive: SF P.J. Tucker.
Phoenix Suns Receive: SF/PF Wesley Johnson and a 2019 second-round pick.
Indiana and New Orleans Reshuffle
Indiana Pacers Receive: C Alexis Ajinca, SG/SF Tyreke Evans, a 2018 lottery-protected first-round pick and a 2017 second-round pick (via the Philadelphia 76ers).
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: C Al Jefferson, SF/PF C.J. Miles and a 2018 second-round pick
The New Orleans Pelicans' unending—and slightly odd—quest to limit Anthony Davis' exposure to opposing centers is pulling them in many different directions.
First, the Pelicans were drawn to Jahlil Okafor, the odd man out of the Philadelphia 76ers frontcourt pileup, per Wojnarowski. Then, Scotto brought word they were talking to the Brooklyn Nets about Brook Lopez.
Neither of those options would be ideal. Okafor is a project on both sides of the court, and the Pelicans shouldn't be forfeiting a first-round pick for his services unless they're also dumping Omer Asik's contract. Lopez has unlocked his inner unicorn under head coach Kenny Atkinson, but Brooklyn wants two first-rounders to complete his extradition, according to the New York Post's Brian Lewis.
Al Jefferson is like a souped-up Okafor. He is a great passer, can face up to the basket and plays more defense than the Philly fledgling. At 32, he doesn't fit New Orleans' timeline, but the final season of the three-year, $30 million deal he signed with Indiana last summer is non-guaranteed. Oh, and he's available, per HoopsHype's Alex Kennedy.
Picking up C.J. Miles would give the Pelicans a combo wing who spaces the floor and can survive on defense. He shimmies between either forward spot, and his 42.1 percent clip on catch-and-shoot threes is a big bump for an offense that ranks 19th in long-range accuracy.
The Indiana Pacers' motivation here is simple: grab a first-round pick and salary-cap relief for a flight risk in Miles (player option) and an aging post-up brute in Jefferson who isn't having a profound enough impact on the bench.
Verdict: This one's good to go.
Lakers, Magic and Pistons Get Busy...and Maybe Weird
Detroit Pistons Receive: SG/SF Mario Hezonja and PG/SG Lou Williams.
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: PG D.J. Augustin and a 2017 lottery-protected first-round pick (via the Toronto Raptors or Los Angeles Clippers).
Orlando Magic Receive: SG Darrun Hilliard and PG Reggie Jackson.
Detroit Pistons head coach and president Stan Van Gundy is both an optimist and a realist. He won't give up on his sub-.500 troops, but he acknowledges there's a core dilemma.
"Reggie [Jackson] came back," he told ESPN.com's Zach Lowe. "And we've struggled ever since."
These struggles have led the Pistons to gauge Jackson's trade market, per Lowe. And while the Magic have Elfrid Payton on the docket, head coach Frank Vogel has relegated him to bench duty—again—this time in favor of C.J. Watson.
Orlando continues to operate under the guise that its rebuild is nearing an end point. Acquiring Jackson—who is 26 and has three seasons left on a five-year deal that was inked before the salary-cap explosion—fits with this hopelessly flawed approach.
Lou Williams profiles as a noticeable upgrade in Detroit. He would cede starting status to Ish Smith but is no stranger to coming off the bench. And he's draining more of his catch-and-shoot threes (38.9 percent) than Jackson (36.4 percent)—a monstrous plus for a Detroit offense consisting of so much ball-dominant talent.
Mario Hezonja looks out of place in Orlando, with Terrence Ross arriving as part of the Ibaka trade. He's more valuable to the Pistons, who need to cut salary in advance of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's max deal.
There's little the Lakers need to think about. Collecting a first-round pick would aid the rebuilding cause, and shedding Williams' ridiculous offensive output increases their chances of retaining this year's top-three protected draft pick.
Still, this deal needs some finagling. The Magic shouldn't be parting with a first-rounder, however late, when they're not sure whether the latest pivot will pan out. Dealing Payton instead of that Clippers or Raptors pick is a better move.
Verdict: Let's Get Weirder
Detroit Pistons Receive: SG/SF Mario Hezonja, PG Elfrid Payton and PG/SG Lou Williams.
Los Angeles Lakers Receive: PG D.J. Augustin and a 2018 lottery-protected first-round pick (via Detroit).
Orlando Magic Receive: SG/SF Reggie Bullock, PG Reggie Jackson, PG Beno Udrih and a 2018 second-round pick (via Detroit).